One of the most frequently asked questions about the Enneagram personality typing system is, can your Enneagram change over time? Many people are convinced that such a change is possible, based on what has occurred in their own lives or on what they’ve observed happening in the lives of others.
But is this true? Can your Enneagram change over time, as you get older and continue to accumulate transformative life experiences?
A closer examination will be necessary to answer this fascinating question.
What Is the Enneagram System?
The Enneagram system identifies the most essential characteristics of a person’s personality. Once you know someone’s Enneagram type, you’ll know a lot more about their core beliefs and primary motivations. You’ll learn how they interpret events in the world and in their own life, and how they manage the emotional reactions that are produced by what they experience.
Enneagrams emerge from a combination of genetic factors and environmental exposures. A person’s Enneagram type is established in childhood, although the role it plays in controlling their patterns of thought and behavior will become more apparent as they grow into adulthood.
As a quick reminder, the nine Enneagram personality types include:
· Type 1: The Perfectionist
· Type 2: The Giver
· Type 3: The Achiever
· Type 4: The Individualist
· Type 5: The Investigator
· Type 6: The Skeptic
· Type 7: The Enthusiast
· Type 8: The Challenger
· Type 9: The Peacemaker
If you’ve been tested and classified under the Enneagram system, it's virtually certain you’ll recognize yourself under your identified category once you study the characteristics of your type more fully and do a deeper dive into your past actions and reactions.
But even after completing such a self-examination, you may not be entirely sure your Enneagram type is the same now as it was in the past. You may feel like your present thinking and behavioral patterns qualify you to be listed under another Enneagram category, and that this alternative classification may be a better fit given where you are currently. Your focus or emphasis may seem different than before, and that may have left you asking, can your Enneagram change as you get older?
Perhaps after years of acting like the classical Achiever (Enneagram 3), you’ve suddenly found yourself going through an existential crisis that has you thinking like the Individualist (Enneagram 4) who is constantly searching for the true meaning of life. Or maybe your long-standing Enneagram 1 perfectionism has recently been surpassed by an overwhelming desire to devote yourself to helping others, in the typical Enneagram 2 (Giver) fashion.
If you’ve experienced something like this, it may seem clear that the answer to the question ‘can your Enneagram change’ is a definitive ‘yes.’ But while that conclusion might seem to make some sense, it is based on having only a partial understanding of what the Enneagram system truly entails.
Well-Adjusted vs. Maladjusted: Grasping the True Complexity of the Enneagram Types
One way that people can become confused enough to ask ‘can your Enneagram change’ is if they fail to distinguish between mature and immature behaviors associated with specific personality types. Their ideas about the Enneagram system are too rigid, and consequently they fail to understand how people who share the same Enneagram types can still be totally different, even to the point of displaying opposite behaviors.
For example, a mature or healthy Type 1 Perfectionist will not use their high expectations as an excuse to judge themselves or others harshly, but will instead use them to lift people up as they encourage them to work hard to develop to their fullest potential. While an immature or unhealthy Perfectionist will often be quite hard on themselves and their loved ones or associates, a healthy Enneagram 1 will be patient, tolerant, inspirational, and enthusiastic, all while subtly pushing other people (and themselves) to keep reaching for the stars.
To someone who thinks of perfectionism as automatically negative, constructive behavior of the latter type might seem out of place. They might associate it with the Enneagram Type 2 personality, thinking this person is more of a Giver than a Perfectionist. Someone who has been classified as an Enneagram 1 may fail to recognize signs of personal growth in themselves, and if they’ve learned to channel their innate perfectionism in a more positive or constructive direction, they may see it as evidence that their Enneagram type has changed.
Another stark contrast can be found by comparing a healthy Enneagram 8 to an unhealthy individual of the same type. When they lack maturity and insight, the Challenger type can be overly controlling and difficult to get along with. They can become suspicious and domineering, acting in ways that others find most unpleasant.
On the other hand, a Type 8 who is more settled and secure will put their forceful personality to work for the benefit of all. They will remain strong-willed and determined to exert a creative influence over their environment, but they will do so because they’re motivated by an idealistic vision of how things can and should be made better for their friends, family members, and companions as well as for themselves.
For those who hold a cliched view of the Type 8 as overly controlling, this type of behavior might seem atypical. But such actions would actually be quite normal for a well-adjusted Challenger who is comfortable in their own skin, and mature enough to avoid the pitfalls that can bring great unhappiness into the lives of maladjusted Enneagram 8s.
The difference between a mature and immature person of any Enneagram number can be profound. Too often people hold onto negative ideas about what the various Enneagram types are really like, and that can make them think (incorrectly) that a person demonstrating positive qualities has either been mistyped or has somehow changed into another type entirely.
The Enneagram System and the Whole Human Being
Another source of confusion about the Enneagram system is that people think it has an exclusionary character. In other words, they think that if they’ve been classified as a specific number, this should somehow capture all of their personality traits.
This is an incorrect assumption. If you take a look at each of the Enneagram classifications and apply it to your own life, you’ll likely find that all of them have been reflected in your behavior and attitudes at one time or another.
Even the most committed Peacemaker (Type 9), for example, will assert their personal will in some cases as if they were a fully committed Challenger (Type 8). They will do this when they’re absolutely certain their way is the best way to make everyone happy or keep them healthy in the long run.
Likewise, the Individualist (Enneagram 4) will see themselves as separate, unique, and different for the most part, but they may still jump in and join a larger group to have some fun from time to time. In these instances their behavior might resemble the adventurous Type 7 (the Enthusiast) much more than it does the typical Enneagram 4 since they’re letting others take the lead and following along without a lot of self-reflection.
Similarly, even the most ambitious Achiever (Type 3) might occasionally step back and ask themselves if what they’ve been trying so hard to accomplish is really worth the effort. They may then adopt the approach of the typical Type 5 Investigator, first examining the work they’ve been doing more closely before moving on to analyze possible alternatives, to see which way is more likely to deliver long-term personal or professional rewards.
In truth, we could provide examples like this that show any Enneagram type seemingly acting exactly like another type, and perhaps even sustaining that behavior for an extended period. It is important to emphasize that this does not happen because someone’s dominant personality characteristic (the primary determinant of their Enneagram identification) has changed, but rather because human beings are complex creatures whose motivations can be complicated and unpredictable.
The Enneagram system is not a listing of mutually exclusive traits. It is instead like nine separate continuums, each of which has a place for every human being somewhere along their respective sliding scales. Each person will be further advanced on one of these continuums than on all the others, and that is what determines their dominant personality characteristic (and permanent Enneagram type). Nevertheless they will always maintain some sort of presence on all nine continuums, and are thus capable of acting in ways that are consistent with varying motivations.
Final Thoughts: People Can Evolve and Grow, But Enneagrams Stay the Same
So the final answer to the question, can your Enneagram change over time, is clear once you understand how the Enneagram system really works.
Your Enneagram type will not change. It is a permanent aspect of your personality, and while your behavioral patterns may be flexible your deepest and most fundamental motivations will remain the same no matter how much time passes or what kind of life situations arise.
You may express yourself differently than someone you know who shares your Enneagram type. But that only reveals how far you’ve advanced on the path to developing your complete potential as a human being, in comparison to that other person. Your Enneagram type will create a general outline for you to follow, but in the end it will be up to you to fill in the details that make your life story special and unique.